Violence Legit in Self-Defense – Not Otherwise

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I
don't actually remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard
about the attack on Pearl Harbor, but I know I was living in Arlington,
Massachusetts, I was a sophomore at Harvard (Class of '44), and
I was 18 years old.

I
was also sublimely apolitical. I had graduated in 1940 from a government
high school in Arlington, and I learned in a hurry in my freshman
year at Harvard that I had not gotten an education that put me anywhere
within range of the average kid from a prep school, so I spent my
first year trying to catch up, following the very kind hints handed
out by the u201Csection menu201D in my first-year history and some other
courses.

These
section men, graduate students doing the professors' grunt work,
were usually public school graduates like myself, underpaid bright
guys from some place like Brooklyn. I remember one in particular,
an intensely brilliant man, who said he had only recently given
up being a communist because he realized every worker in America
wanted to move up to foreman. He later became a professor of history
at an Eastern college and wrote some distinguished books.

These
younger scholars knew from recent personal experience what the biggest
holes were in my kind of earlier schooling: not enough history,
no philosophy, very inadequate foreign language skills (despite
high school Latin and French courses), a pretty poor showing on
written English, and of course zero sophistication about anything.
They were gentle and encouraging, which was not true of some professors.

So
I studied a lot, and I continued to ignore politics and world affairs.
I did not join in or even watch the college peace marches that went
on in 1940 or get involved in the communist-versus-whatever rallies
I was vaguely aware were going on. My attention was on trying to
make sure a small scholarship I had was renewed for the next year.
Without it I could not continue in college at all.

I
do remember being solicited by the Harvard German Club (called by
a name I forget that had verein at the end). I attended one
showing by the club of an English-language film making much of Deutsche
Jugend and Die Natur. It had a musical score with marvelous
harmonica music, an impression I've never forgotten. That was all
the politics I remember from my first two years.

Came
December 7, 1941. My two older brothers were soon in the Navy. I
joined the Navy's college V-12 program, and after finishing college
in November 1943 went to officers school and then to service on
an LSM (Landing Ship Medium) in the West Pacific. After the war
(I was in the battle for Okinawa) I ended up in command of an LSM
moving around in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean waters until mid-1946.

Most
of my energy went into keeping me out of hot water and, when I had
a command, my ship out of ditto. I had a healthy respect for courts
martial, etc. When (at Eniwetok) I heard of FDR's death I was greatly
saddened at the passing of our great president. And later, in August
1945 (we were at sea returning to Pearl for our u201Cinvasionu201D load),
I was grateful for Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb and
end the damn war.

How
one's views can change with time and information! I now think Truman's
decision was precisely a payout of the anti-war poet Robinson Jeffers's
line, u201CNow the little men prepare more flaming horrors.u201D And Roosevelt
seems to me the very embodiment of the now hallowed presidential
tradition of betraying our national interests to foreign nations
(Britain in this case) and the money-and-munitions men.

I
paid very little attention to our next few wars beyond being grateful
I was not in them. But at last my u201Cpublic affairsu201D conscience began
to come awake, and I started a long course of study and reflection
that has continued to the present. It increasingly lands me on forlorn
shores. But I now have, thanks to LRC, the greatest sense I have
ever had of the existence of a whole crowd of people I can read
with pleasure and agree with.

War
propaganda as presently practiced is a frost and a fraud, and war
itself is a truly god-awful horror. As witness Vietnam, and now
Afghanistan. My present stance is that any war that is not clearly
in self-defense against an aggressor is illegitimate. The response
to 9/11 started as the one thing, and is evidently going to turn
into the other (60 nations!).

I
have come to detest the power-mad idea that we Americans have some
sort of destiny to bring enlightenment or democracy or some other
meaningless shibboleth to the rest of the world, and I loathe the
foreign policy we have constructed in the 56 years since the Japanese
surrender. Needless to say, I am deep in a red-hot mental frustration
these days. Except for Lew Rockwell & Cohort.

December
11, 2001

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